SUMMARY: Carnival is truly known as the “fun ship” because there is always noise, loud music, and a raucous crowd. It’s the least expensive of the cruise lines, with plenty to keep you busy poolside. The food is nothing special, drinks are average. Their private island Princess Cays is great for snorkeling. The older ships are really showing their age.
Design and Impression
We don’t like to cruise much on Carnival because it’s loud and has a younger, more rowdy crowd. For instance, at Bimini Island, we were sitting out on our balcony and there were SO many people playing their own loud music from their balconies. There were people yelling and screaming to the people walking back on the pier. It’s definitely not a relaxing, peaceful ship. So if that is what you’re looking for, I’d suggest Holland America.
However, they have great deals and sail out of Port Canaveral which is so close to us, that they’re hard to pass up. We’ve been on the Magic and the Liberty recently. There are huge differences in the experience you will have on Carnival based on the ship. Their smaller, older fleet are just strange if you’re used to more modern cruise ships. The Liberty has the most bizarre layout. You can’t walk all the way from one end of the ship to the other on the lower decks. The entrance to the dining room was almost impossible to find. We frequently would meet a wall in the middle of a passageway, have to go up one flight, down the hall and then back down the stairs to get to the other side of the deck. The Magic on the other hand, was very well laid out and had a really nice upper deck around the main pool that was covered, but open on the sides. That was a nice area to sit and have a drink after returning from a shore excursion.
The Magic had really good bars and cafes (that are included in your fee). The Blue Iguana Cantina was so good. They not only have a taco bar at lunch time, but they also serve breakfast burritos which were so good. The Red Frog Bar was pretty cool too. You can get beer by the bucket which we would take back to our cabin so that we could put the leftover beers in the fridge for later. The interior seating of the Red Frog Pub was just like being in a fun bar. The decor is very tropical and was a really nice place to hang out and watch a football game while having a cold beer. They also had outdoor seating including a couple of swings. Nearby, there’s an outdoor BBQ place which was pretty good with picnic tables right along the railing. There was something for everyone on the Magic.
The Carnival Liberty looks like an art deco nightmare. It’s one of the craziest looking ships I’ve ever seen! But I kind of dig it. It’s unusual, and I always prefer this sort of design to the boring Royal Caribbean blah look. Libery has really poor sound-proofing and ventilation. We were staying in a cabin on deck 6 and could smell the smoke from the casino below, as well as hear the arcade below us. There was one arcade machine in particular that was super loud. Our neighbors also heard the arcade noise, and smelled the smoke, and ended up complaining to guest services.
The balconies have rust all over them and other areas of the ship really show its age. There was only 1 outlet in the entire cabin on the Liberty, so I definitely recommend bringing a power strip. I really dislike the Liberty as far as layout, food and the type of guests it attracts, but when they offer a 3 day cruise for $49, it’s hard to resist. We paid $49 for a 3 day to Bimini (a port that we really like), then got offered a balcony upgrade for $35 per person. That is probably the cheapest weekend vacation that one could have, especially since we have no travel or parking expenses.
I’ve got to say that Carnival holds the record for the worst pizza I’ve ever attempted to eat. It was like a crispy, dry tasteless crust of bread with some dried cheese sprinkled on top. Truly vile. The rest of the food is probably equivalent to school cafeteria food. It’s as if the staff was never trained to cook. The bread is tough, there is little to no flavor on anything. Some of their desserts were pretty good though. The good thing is that I’m not tempted to eat a lot when I cruise with Carnival, so there’s that.
The main difference between Carnival and other cruise lines is that there are VERY few choices. They have one food line that has the salad bar (pretty good salad bar), then traditional dinner food of some kind of beef or chicken, potatoes and a vegetable. That’s pretty much it. I think they rely heavily on their other restaurants to pick up the slack, like The Blue Iguana, Guys Burger Joint and their Deli. The Blue Iguana had tacos and burritos, the deli has pretty good sandwiches. They used to have a really good falafel wrap, which they had gotten rid of before our most recent cruise on the Liberty in December 2022. There is NO vegetarian selection at all except for the tacos and burritos if you just leave the meat off. So at least I got some beans and rice for protein. That is a real problem on cruises for vegetarians. Holland America so far has the best vegetarian food options.
I will say however, that the Alchemy Bar on Carnival Liberty made me a killer gin drink. I told the bartender that I didn’t want anything too sweet, and I liked gin. So he made up this drink, threw a rolled up cucumber slice in it, handed it to me. It was one the best drinks I’ve ever had. He refused to tell me what was in it though.
The cabin on the Liberty was very dated and in bad repair. It was noisy and smelled of smoke from the casino. But it’s an old ship and the cruises on it are cheap, so we really couldn’t complain. The second time we sailed on the Liberty, we were on deck 7, so had no smoke smell or arcade noises. So make sure you check the deck plan before choosing a cabin. The sound-proofing is almost non-existent on the Liberty. The cabins on the Magic were much nicer. We stayed in balcony cabin 9236, and saw interior cabin 9234. They had plenty of storage, and everything was comfortable. The beds were pretty comfortable and not too hard and the bedding was nice and soft.
Private Island: Princess Cays
I actually really enjoyed Princess Cays because it had some of the best coral reefs I’ve seen in the Caribbean. FAR better than most of the excursions we paid for. You can go right off the beach, and the reef is actually along the seawall of the beach, so you don’t have to go out far. You just swim from one beach access point to the next and get to see the reef in between. We did have to tender there, so be aware that you might have to book a time if the ship is full.
You can rent one of the little cabins shown above, which at the time of our sailing in May of 2022 were $300. They also rent watersport equipment and have a kids play area, as well as a straw market for shopping. They offer many excursions there, like diving, ATV rentals, and more. Unlike Holland America, your all-inclusive drink package can be used on the island. The food pavilion was pretty good and had plenty of picnic tables to sit at. The island did not feel crowded at all. But then we took an early tender and got to walk around quite a bit before anyone else got there.
- Port Canveral
- Nice outdoor seating (Magic)
- Cafes and Pubs (Magic)
- Terrible Food (tastely and poorly prepared)
- Older ships (Liberty and Freedom)
- Rowdy Guests